• United States
Editor in Chief

Broadband in spotlight

May 03, 20043 mins

It was refreshing to hear President Bush last week emphasize the need to speed the deployment of broadband access, and his methods seem sensible and on target.

As part of his speech to the American Association of Community Colleges last week in Minneapolis, Bush said broadband was central to transforming our economy by facilitating the flow of information and knowledge, and reiterated his desire to see broadband reach “every corner of our country by 2007.”

Noting that the U.S. ranks 10th among industrialized countries in broadband availability, Bush proposed ways to turn the tide. He said the government should clear regulatory hurdles, increase access to federal land for fiber runs and transmission towers, open up federally controlled wireless spectrum, and ban taxes on access.

Regarding the latter, the Senate on the same day started to debate whether to renew a ban on Internet access taxes, with some senators arguing that, as telephone traffic moves to the Internet, traditional telephony taxes should apply.

We side with the president on this. Adding taxes would slow deployment and adoption. As Rick White, CEO of the TechNet lobbying group, says, “We don’t want a system like we have with the telecom network, where the government taxes a bunch of things and then has lots of control over how the network is operated. That’s not going to work very well on a high-tech net that needs to evolve as the tech evolves.”

But perhaps the two most-important things that came out of the president’s speech were 1) his clarifying that broadband is a national concern, and 2) a key thing the government can do is, in the president’s words, “clear out the underbrush of regulation.”

Because telephony incumbents view the Internet as a threat, there are some that would like to see the Internet saddled with the same regulatory mantle. That would be a huge step backward.

As White says: “What we should be doing is using this new technology to help us out of that swamp. Instead of saying ‘VoIP competes with you so it should get all the same regulations you have,’ we should say, ‘Once VoIP is a significant part of your market, instead of making it subject to all the old regulations, we’ll deregulate you so you can play by the new rules.'”

There is much work left to be done, but elevating the broadband discussion and promising to simplify regulation can only help.